Migrants rushed across the Mexico border Thursday, racing to enter the United States before pandemic-related asylum restrictions are lifted. This shift threatens to put a historic strain on the nation’s beleaguered immigration system. The imminent end of the rules known as Title 42 stirred fear among migrants, who said the change would make it more difficult for them to stay in the US. Title 42 allowed the government to bypass essential asylum procedures and speed up deportations. But critics argued the measure was illegal and could lead to migrants returning to danger in their home countries, where many face threats like drug cartels and corrupt governments.
The Biden administration has said that it will no longer use the tool based on a vaguely written 1944 law to control migration during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, it was used by the Centers for Disease Control to limit border crossings and immediately expel migrants who had entered without a visa or with fraudulent documents. It was also used to block people from asking for protection, arguing that taking them into custody in US facilities could present a more significant health risk than expulsions from Mexico.
Title 42 had a modest effect on the number of people from nationalities at risk of being sent back to their home countries in Mexico. Still, overall migrant encounters remain near 21st-century or all-time highs. Some migrants, such as Jhoan Daniel Barrios, 25, of Venezuela, pushed through the treacherous Darien Gap hoping to cross the United States.
The reverting of Title 42 to pre-pandemic immigration laws means that if migrants cross into the United States and do not have a valid visa, they will be sent back to their country of origin or, in the case of those who have a legal basis for seeking asylum, they could be barred from returning to the United States for five years. This could mean a return to the days when migrants who crossed into the United States had little chance of being granted asylum, even if they could be found in good standing in a long, backlogged process that often takes years.
A reversion to pre-pandemic immigration rules is expected to increase border crossings, which are already far above average for May, the peak month for migrants. But the expected increase is likely to be small and long-lasting, experts say.
Some migrant advocates are worried that the end of Title 42 will spur more violence against those sent back to Mexico or blocked from asking for asylum and that they will be subjected to more deportations. But that is a mistaken assumption, argues Theresa Cardinal Brown with the Bipartisan Policy Center. “The media is making this sound as though there will be a massive, long-lasting surge in a migration after May 11,” she told PBS NewsHour’s Nicole Ellis. “And that’s just not true.” Watch the full interview above.